Thursday, August 31, 2017

the geneva walmart

So, the Wal-Mart in Geneva, AL, turns 30 today, this the last day of August.

Here you see Birmingham, Troy, Samson,
and Geneva. The pink dots are bigger than
the actual towns themselves.
Let me set the geography for the many of you that have no clue where I'm talking about. I'm from a little town called Samson, population 2100, with 2 red lights and a caution light, and 40ish members of the graduation class of 1993.  Our family moved to 201 N. Johnson Street in 1984, then across the side street to 211 North Johnson Street in 1985, and finally, 208 N. Johnson Street in 1986... yes, we moved one house over, across a street, then moved across N. Johnson to another house, and that would be the home I lived in until I moved off to college in the fall of 1993.

Samson has two main roads - the aforementioned N. Johnson, which runs north to south, and Hwy 52, which runs east to west, and essentially is the "downtown" part of Samson, Alabama.  So if you left my house, took a left once you hit town at Hwy 52, and then drove 8 miles... past the Subway/Dollar General (is that still there?) and the old peanut mill, past the log cabin house, past the pipe plant thing, past the McInnis' veterinarian office, past the caution light, past the cutoff road to go to Joey Stephens' old house and where Forrest & Charlotte Wright live (and Sandy and Cristie too), and yes, past the Sunny Meadows Cemetery (rest in peace, Jennifer W-B) you'll come to the Geneva County seat, a small city called Geneva, Alabama.

And if you did all of these things on August 31st, 1987, you'd see the brand spankin' new Walmart. To my 12 year old self, this was amazing.  I had only heard tale of such discount stores, but to have a Walmart here?  Eight miles from my house??  I mean... that was even cooler than the McDonald's in Geneva (which would be about 9 miles from my house), or the movie theaters in Enterprise (around 20 miles from my house), or even the brand new Wiregrass Commons Mall in Dothan (I lived 45 miles from a mall... those were the days).

This Walmart was amazing!  It had records and tapes, and clothes, and cool things and other cool things and it was HUGE.  I mean, not as big as that new Walmart Supercenter that opened in Enterprise in what, 1989?  But still.  A Walmart was 8 miles from me.  So awesome.

And I frequented that Walmart.  Frequently.

As a matter of fact, I can tell you with certainty that in the time it opened until I moved to Troy in 1993, I purchased the following:

The majesty of the Walmart in Geneva. To 12 year old me, it was a castle.
To 42 year old me, its a quaint reminder of childhood. 

  • Debbie Gibson's "Out of the Blue" album on vinyl, and considering it just turned 30 itself, this might be the first thing I ever purchased from a Walmart.  
  • The soundtrack to the movie "Cocktail", also on vinyl
  • A Valentine's gift for my high school girlfriend Cindy H, which I believe was pajamas
  • A birthday gift for my friend Stephanie Phillips, who said after her birthday that I didn't even get her a card. She was kidding, but I bought her a shirt.  Nowadays, a "shirt from Walmart" doesn't sound as nice as "a shirt from Target" or "a shirt from Macys", but to me, it was an awesome gift. It was white with pink stripes. It had shoulder pads. Yes, looking back, it was probably not very fashionable, and to Stephanie's credit, she wore it at least once.  But I bought it with my own money, so it's the thought that counts, right? Right.
  • Tons of paper and notebooks for the stories I wrote in junior high and high school, and I wrote a ton. By hand. I wore mechanical pencils slap out (of which I also bought at Walmart)
  • Starship's "Knee Deep in the Hoopla" and The Jets' self titled album, both on cassette. I loved The Jets
  • A pair of silk boxer shorts, just because I wanted to find out what silk boxers felt like. They ride. Bad.
  • My first tennis racket. I was inspired by Jennifer Capriati and Wimbledon back in the day, and I played tennis regularly for the next 15 to 20 years. 
  • Amy Grant's "That's What Love is For" on cassette single. I still have it.  Love that song.
  • Cathy King's baby shower gift, which was a carseat.  She was a classmate of mine, and to be fair, High School Girlfriend Cindy H and I bought it together.
  • Angie Jay's homecoming gift, because she was my date in October 1992. Until Bradley Miller screwed that up.  Don't remember the gift, but I never gave it.  There's a high school story for you. 
  • A ficus tree for Ms Peterson, my civics teacher, because her kindness saved my Troy scholarship. I left after my last final as a high school student, sped down to the Geneva Walmart, bought it and sped back, putting it in her classroom before her planning period was over.   


This Walmart holds a ton of memories for me, and I'm glad it's still open. And I'm actually glad it's not 24 hours -- its hours are something like 7a to 9p or maybe even 10p on the weekends.  And whereas the Walmart (formerly a "Supercenter", but now just called "Walmart") that is about 4 minutes from my home through traffic is a behemoth of a building, the Geneva Walmart is less than 150 paces from one side to the other.  I know because I've counted it.  150 paces would get you out of the grocery department and maybe past the self service checkout at the Walmart on Hwy 280, close to me.

And when I have a few extra minutes as I'm coming through Samson (with my old house being sold, there isn't a lot of "coming to" Samson now), I'll drive down Hwy 52, stop at Sunny Meadows and see my friend Jennifer for a minute, then stop in the Geneva Walmart. Sometimes just to walk around, though that doesn't take long. Sometimes to remember where I used to purchase records, then cassettes, then the Plexiglas case that had CD long boxes -- CD players were too fancy for my blood in 1992, I tell you.

So, happy 30th birthday, Geneva Walmart. May you be around another 30, and I'll see you soon, I'm sure.

(Many thanks to my friend Amy Warr for retweeting the WTVY-TV link that alerted me to this great holiday -- you can read their story here, though mine is better)




Friday, June 30, 2017

we wants the redhead

So, I'm a big Disney guy, but I'm not a PC guy. I think political correctness is ruining many things in the country because it's an overused term.   

Having said that, I met the news that Disney is changing up the "redhead auction" scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney World with mixed feelings. 

In case you aren't familiar with the famous ride, you board a boat, which takes you through a journey through dimly lit pirate scenes. Speaking mostly of the Disney World version (thought Disneyland is very similar), you pass by a mermaid skeleton, a skeleton steering a ghost ship, down a small pitch black incline, then in between a battle between a ship and a fort. The rest of the ride will take you through various comical scenes with pirates looting and drinking and plundering and so on, with World featuring Jack Sparrow, and Land being more traditional.

There is a scene in the second half that shows an auction for... well, women.  Audio animatronics of various sizes stand, waiting to be sold, as one of the pirates yells out "We wants the redhead!" referring to a more attractive... well, woman for sale.  Yes, it's a robot, but you feel me.

Some years ago, during a refurbishment, some scenes were changed to have some of the women weilding rolling pins chasing their men (as opposed to the other way around, as it was for decades before).  Disney now wants both men and women pirates/robots to be involved in looting and buying random things at the auction.

From what I've seen on social media, most people do not want this change, want Disney to leave well enough alone and are "tired of all this PC crap and tired of companies like Disney giving in to the small minority of people who want to change it!", or some such.

At first, I thought "Why not leave well enough alone?"  I mean, it's been like that for a long time, and Disney has monorails that need to be fixed, they have garbage cans that need to be emptied way more than before, pricing is going up, Universal is atop its game and so on -- I mean, Disney has bigger fish to fry, right?

And yet...

There's something about selling a person that bugs me.  Even if it's a robot. 

If Splash Mountain depicted the selling of a slave, or at least a black slave (as that's how we usually think of "slavery"), Magic Kingdom would burn to the ground.  Heck, they won't even release the movie "Song of the South" in the US for sale or streaming (I support it being available, by the way), and so why do we think the selling of females, even depicted as campy, silly characters, are okay?

Let me stop here.  I have a feeling by now, some of you reading are thinking,  "What are you talking about?  You're falling for the same PC crap that Disney is giving in to!" and those who really know me are probably saying "Really? What about you being against (fill in hot topic of the day that I've given my opinion on in recent months) but you support this??"  For that answer, I can definitively... I don't know.  I have no idea.

I do know this, though.  Slavery, at least in this country as we know it, doesn't exist. Trafficking does.  Trafficking is not okay.  Even when it's robots.  

Gosh, I sound silly, don't I?  Robots don't traffic.  They do what they are programmed to do. And it's an old attraction back when making such amusing jokes and scenes were acceptable.  And honestly, I'm sure it's acceptable today... but I really am not bothered by Disney's move to change things up. 

I guess I just pictured some 18 year old girl who'd spent 4 years being trapped in the slave trade (re: sex trafficking), but now free and enjoying a day of magic and fun at Magic Kingdom... and seeing a scene with silly, stupid, goofy looking robot pirates that ended up reminding her of how she was stolen from her family years ago, sold to some billionaire and sent to a foreign country... or a nearby county. 

So that's it. Maybe I'm silly, and I don't plan on defending my position other than what I've stated. I have no problem with people being mad about Disney changing the scene... and if Disney makes an about face and decides to leave as is, I'll probably be fine with it.

But taking out the part where women are sold into slavery?  I'm okay with it. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

top ten books of 2016

Read the other two posts that precede this.... first, my love of audiobooks, and second, the books that didn't make the top ten.

HONORABLE MENTION

"Superheroes Are For Real" by Ethan Bryan (2016)
I didn't count this in my Top Ten, as it's a children's book, but it's still worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.  It glorious comic book style color, its the story of a little girl who sees her dad as... well, a superhero.  It's so much fun, and such a sweet story, and my favorite anecdote from Ethan Bryan (who is a friend of mine, and pasty white) is "Someone asked me why the dad and daughter in the story are black.  My answer was 'Why not?'"  Get this book and read to and with your kids.

Oh, hey Anna Kendrick.  How you?
10 - "Scrappy Little Nobody" by Anna Kendrick (2016)
One of my favorite "new era" of actresses, as in, those in their 20s who we are witnessing the early part of what will be a long career (see, "Stone, Emma" or "Watson, Emma"), she writes various stories of her coming-up, from theater to auditions to love to life in general, all with a sort of awkward tone... because as fun as she may be, she's awkward, and that's part of her charm.

9 - "End of Watch" by Stephen King (2016)
After "Mr. Mercedes" and "Finders Keepers" (which I think is the best in the trilogy), King ends the Bill Hodges Trilogy with the reemergence of the Brady Hartsfield, the villain in the first one (with only a cameo in the second). Its a solid ending, and a great effort.  Will Patton is a regular King narrator, and though his female voices border the line between decent and silly, its still a great journey.

8 - "Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty & a Crapload of Common Sense" by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark, aka The Chicks on the Right (2014)
Let's put it this way... if you are conservative, you'll love this indictment of Black Lives Matter, Hillary Clinton, the liberal media, the hypocrisy of Hollywood and more. If you are a liberal, you will think this book is full of crap.  You can probably tell where I fall on that spectrum.

Oh, and she does.  Lauren Graham is one of my favorites on TV, playing one of my favorite TV roles ever -- Lorelei Gilmore -- and this is a quick dash through her early career, her experience on Gilmore Girls and the awesomeness of the new Gilmore Girls series.  She's full of jokes and one-liners (most land, a few do not) and great energy, and you just want to sit with her and ask all the questions about all the things. 

Before he was the best selling author of "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" (along with "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", which was turned into one of the worst films I've seen in recent memory), Grahame-Smith wrote up this little ditty about what to do when facing the travails and problems of a horror film. You'll learn what to do when faced with such horrors as cannibalistic hillbillies, serial killers, zombies, vampires, haunted Japanese videocassettes and more.  It's the funniest book I read all year, and anyone who's ever watched a coed go into a dark basement with a low-bulb flashlight in a film will appreciate the pop culture here.

This book is crazy good. Two parallel stories -- one is Daniel Burnham, an architect who was given the task of constructing and pulling off the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.  The other is the story of H.H. Holmes, who was a sadistic killer who built a "murder castle", full of torture rooms and dead bodies... and both stories intertwine even though the Burnham and Holmes rarely cross paths within the story itself.  While Burnham's story is compelling, dealing with the politics and limitations of the day in an effort to make what was then one of the biggest events on the planet, its Holmes' story that brings this book to life. The building he constructed was pure evil, purposely built for killing and disposing of lots of bodies, many of them being women and children.  Oh, and this isn't a fiction book -- this is a true story, soon to be a movie with Leonard DiCaprio.

SIDEBAR... I finished the last 4 hours of this book while on a plane headed to Anaheim for training in Disneyland last September.  I was around 30 minutes from completion as I walked out of John Wayne Airport towards the Disney transportation area.  And I spent the entire trip from the airport to the Disneyland listening to the rest of the book, literally hearing the last few words as the bus rolled to a stop in front of the Grand Californian.  True story.

4 - "The Whistler" by John Grisham (2016)

Investigator Lacy Stoltz and her partner Hugo Hatch get a call from a mysterious source named Myers, who has information on the corruption at a high judicial level centering on a casino on the Tappacola Indian Reservation in the Florida panhandle.  Thus begins the unfolding of a tense tale of mafia, bad judges, money laundering and more.  Grisham went through a period of novels that told a good story and had terrible endings (I'm looking at you, "The Appeal"), but his last four or five have been at the least solid and at their best, stellar.  This falls somewhere in between, but I really enjoyed the twists.   Note:  Make sure you get a copy of the "prequel", "Witness to a Trial", available on Kindle and Audible.com -- its not mandatory, but it sets up "The Whistler" really, really well.

Flynn novels always have ominous
and cool covers
3 - "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn (2006)
I avoided this book for a while, because while I enjoyed "Gone Girl", and really loved "Dark Places" (avoid the movie, its terrible), I wasn't sure if I wanted to read a tale about a chick who cuts herself obsessively.  Finally, though, I felt I needed to read it to cross off all of Flynn's novels.  And I'm glad I did.  Camille Preaker is a journalist with many, many issues, who is sent by her tiny newspaper to her Missouri hometown to investigate the murder of a little girl.  Soon, another body shows up, and Camille and detective Richard Willis -- also her love interest -- try to unravel this case.  And it keeps taking bizarre turns, culminating in an ending that I sorta saw coming, but was thrilling nonetheless. 

I've heard rumors that Flynn has a new novel coming out in May, and I'm sure I'll be listening to it the day it's released.

Being a pop culture junkie, how about a book that essentially runs down the Top 100 television shows of all time, gives an additional list of "almost there" shows and another list of shows that could make future lists.  They start right out of the gate with their Top Five, as they go back and forth on which one could actually be the greatest show of all time -- The Simpsons, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Cheers or The Sopranos.  (I'll let you read to find out how they end up finally ranking out)

It's a great reminder of the history of television, as they dive deep into old shows like The Rifleman, Twilight Zone and Dark Shadows, and argue over how good or how bad shows like The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island were.  It's a fat stack of 436 pages, but I breezed through it, wondering where my favorite all time TV shows ranked... hint:  Out of The Wonder Years, Facts of Life and Scarecrow & Mrs King, only one of them showed up.  Sad!

SIDEBAR: It's no secret I'm slowly working on my own book.  It's a movie book, and it pretty much discusses my favorite 500 films of all time. I'd already decided the "talk about one by one" format was how I was going to go, and the fact this works so well here makes me comfortable in my own decision.

And.. the best book I read all year...



Just re-watched this movie this week. Its got
great re-watchability.
Math confuses me sometimes, so you toss in elements of subprime lending, collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and credit default swaps, and I'm all like "Huh?"  Enter Michael Lewis, the amazing author of "The Blind Side" and "Moneyball", two books (and movies) I love very much.  Lewis' take on the housing market collapse of the mid-2000s that led to the bankruptcy and demise of generations old firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers is fantastic, and spelled out pretty easily. There is still a lot to absorb, and I'd be lying if I told you I understood most half of it, at least well enough to explain it to you, but I did come away with an full understanding of it. 

The characters in the book have depth -- especially since they are real people -- including Howie Hubler who literally lost $900 Billion (that's with a B, not a typo) in a SINGLE DAY... Steven Eisman, a hedge fund manager who is working to system to get rich and yet is still appalled by the entire thing... and Michael Burry, a market analyst with Asperger's, who saw the collapse coming and pushed through the derision and criticism of everyone else to make a boatload of cash at the end. 

If you've seen the equally excellent movie "The Big Short", Christian Bale portrays the Burry character, and what you see on camera -- the nervousness, the loud music, the shorts and t-shirt in the office, the slight lisp and speech impediment, the socially awkward style -- is exactly who he is in the book. 

SIDEBAR:  Personally, I thought he and Tom Hardy's character in "The Revenant" were miles ahead of anyone else in 2014 and should have split the Best Supporting Actor Oscar which went to the undeserving Mark Rylance in "Bridge of Spies", but that's me. I mean, its my opinion, but I'm still right.

So there ya go...  my favorite ten books of the year!   





Tuesday, February 14, 2017

books read in 2016... the not top ten

So I wanted to share my Top Ten Books of 2016... these books are all read for the first time. Though re-reads of books count toward my goal. Out of 43 books, 9 of them were read for a 2nd time, one a 3rd time and as mentioned with Harry Potter, a 5th time.  You can read about my method on my previous post, for the love of audiobooks

But first, let me tell you what I read that didn't make my Top Ten of the year...

--"The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (in real life)" by Chris Hardwicke. Fun, but a little long and tedious in some parts.

--"The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories" by Stephen King. Very enjoyable collection of short stories & novellas.

--"The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" by Steven Pressfield. Solid take on creativity.

Read this, then watch "Making a Murderer" on
Netflix, THEN read "Indefensible", then decide
if you think Steven Avery did it. (I say yes)
--"Stuffology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter" by  Brenda Avadian & Eric M. Riddle. Some great tips on de-clutter and organization.

--"The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction and It's Aftermath" & "Indefensible: The Missing Truth About Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach and Making a Murderer" by Michael Griesbach. The former was written before "Making a Murderer", all about Steven Avery's false conviction for a rape case, then a real conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach. The latter was written after the Netflix doc, and it's a good companion piece to it, about what you didn't see on TV.

--"Confessions of a Terrible Husband: Lessons Learned from a Lumpy Couch" - Nick Pavildas. A really fun marriage book. Recommended.


--"Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies" - Owen Gleibermann. Wanted a book on the life of a movie critic, got a book on the life and sexual devience of said critic.

--"Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy" by Alli Worthington.  She's a great speaker and a great author, and this is a great reminder to just... well, slow down a bit.
--"Tribes: We Need You Lead Us" by Seth Godin.  All about the importance of the people around you.

--The Entire Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling. Order of the Phoenix is still my favorite, though Goblet of Fire is really catching up.

--"Football Confidential: True Confessions From the Gutter of Football" by Anonymous. When an NFL player tells all... don't go looking for lots of name dropping, you won't get it.

--"A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love & Faith in Stages" by Kristen Chenoweth. A memoir of a Broadway superstar. Loved this.

--"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by E.L. Baum. A classic that should be read.

--"The Running Man" by Richard Bachman, nee Stephen King. The movie is better, though this was okay.  And by the way, the theme of the game show "Running Man" is the same, but otherwise, there are vast differences.

--"DisneyWar" by James Stewart. The rise & fall of Michael Eisner at Disney, and this book is amazing.

--"Purple Cow: Transform Your Team By Being Remarkable" by Jeff Goins. Do you have a marketing idea? If its a purple cow, you have a real shot at success.

--"Kill Him Some More: Notorious USA" by Caitlin Rother. Terrible true crime. Poorly written.

--"The Death of the WCW" by Bryan Alverez. Loved this book in 1996, and liked it now. A good business tale.

This is a fun book, and its cool when you know
the author as well
--"Wildflower" by Drew Barrymore. My favorite "bad girl" from the early 90s, all grown up and acting like an adult. Fun memoir.

--"Possessed: The Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder" by Kathryn Casey. I love her true crime stuff, and she doesn't fail here either.

--"Superhuman by Habit" & "Superhuman Social Skills" by Tynan. Yawn.

--"The Red Bandanna: A Life, A Choice, A Legacy" by Tom Rinaldi. The story of a heroism at the World Trade Center. So good.

--"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Interesting story, quick read. Movie was better (and longer)

--"Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explaisn the Hidden Side of Everything" by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  An interesting take on not just economics, but socioeconomics -- where else could you see the connect between standardized testing of US teachers and the Yazuka and sumo wrestling in Japan.

--"The Descendants" by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  The George Clooney movie is based on this book about a Hawaiian landowner, a wife in a coma, two troubled daughters and an affair. If you like the movie, you'll like the book. If not... you won't. I loved both.


And so tomorrow, my Top Ten Books of 2016



Monday, February 13, 2017

for the love of audiobooks

For the third year in a row, I reached my book goal! Because unless I have something to push towards, I can tell you that I would likely never pick up a book and absorb a single word...

Okay, let me stop here and further expound on this point, lest you call me out on whatever you'd call me out on. I use Audible. I'm an audiobook junkie... in fact, my first audiobook ever was a Christmas story (A, not The) on cassette I randomly obtained in college. It was the story of a girl who lived on the wrong side of the tracks, and was picked on by some of the more popular girls, and somehow was given an assignment to be a secret Santa to one of the popular girls... so because she had very little money due to her family not being very financially sound, she ends up making Christmas presents for the girl. And she ends up bringing joy to an otherwise shallow young lady, by making the gifts thoughtful (like, a basket with the girl's favorite things in it, or a scrapbook documenting her cheerleading career, etc).

This movie is amazing. The original from 1957 is likely a better film,  but I
enjoyed this movie so much more
I don't remember the name of the book, the author, and I'm not positive it wasn't a shorter story as a part of a Christmas collection, but there ya go. I remember being all excited about letting my friend Allyson listen to it so she'd enjoy it as much as I did, and she was like "Yeah, its great". Thanks, chick. To be fair, she did the same thing - before falling asleep - when I made her watch Showtime's version of "Twelve Angry Men" in 1997, so perhaps we didn't see eye to eye on what made compelling storytelling. Digress, I do.

When I moved to Birmingham, I visited the library one day (for you millennials, the "library" is a place where you can "check out", or "borrow", or even "free rent" books and other types of media, with the agreement that you return it in a set amount of time) and discovered this huge array of books on CD. So I visited 2 or 3 times per month, checking out anywhere from 3 or 4 to 8 or 9 books on CD at a time, importing them into my iTunes. Some loaded easily, with track names, others had tracks that were about a minute long -- some books literally had 100s of tracks to them. "Kingdom Keepers", I'm looking at you.

Some years later, after I had 100+ audiobooks loaded into iTunes, I discovered Audible.com. My first book ever was "Walt Disney" by Neal Gabler, this 35 hour epic biography, which I blew through in a few days. I was hooked... not only was it just a few files (four 8-hour tracks) but no CDs to deal with. I bought a few more books here and there, and realized that the 1-credit per month plan was not enough. I bumped it up to 2-credits per month and have had that ever since.

The real debate rages on... does listening to audiobooks count as reading? I say yes. Many say no.

The real answer? Who gives a rip. I call it reading, you call it listening, let's call the whole thing off, amma right?

Without Audible.com, I wouldn't touch a book of any kind. Why? I'm just too busy. Through audiobooks, I can take the book in so much better... see, when I read, I have a bad habit of scan-reading. I don't mean to, but I do -- I'll even read a paragraph and have to go back a few pages to get a context of what I just read, as I may have scanned over it. The Lovely Steph Leann says I do this with emails, though I don't know what she means. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Without Audible, I would have never gone in-depth into the Steven Avery case, as documented in "Making a Murderer" on Netflix. Without Audible, I would have never discovered the benefit of the Purple Cow as per Seth Goins. Without Audible, would likely have never revisited (re-read) the downfall of the WCW in the 90s as a part of the Monday Night War. Or known what the true difference is between the movie and the book of "The Running Man".

Or gone through all of the Harry Potter novels for a 5th time. All 119 hours of it, by the way.

I had a goal of 43 books this year... and 42 of them were listened to via my iPod, thanks to Audible. This is not a shill for Audible, necessarily, they just happen to be who I dearly love.


Incidentally, this was the opening part to a three part blog post about the books actually read in 2016... and so that comes tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

to campbell, on your 5th birthday

Dear Campbell,

You LOVE to swing. Actually, you just love to play
outdoors, swinging or not. You love to bring your shoes
to me, hoping to get them on so we can go out--even
if its bedtime, you'd still rather go out and play.
You are five years old.  FIVE YEARS OLD.  That means for 5 years, you have been a part of our lives... born two weeks early in 2011, though I guess I could say you've been a part of our lives for even longer.  Your mom carried you for 8 1/2 months, and we prayed for you, hoped for you, couldn't wait to meet who you'd be even before you were even conceived.

And we can't imagine life without you.

Okay, we maybe could, as we'd probably go to the movies more, and probably to Disney World a lot more... but what fun would that be?  You make our lives... interesting.  And joyous. And full.

So, let's talk about your year so far... frankly, my favorite movie so far as been "Arrival", starring your dad's main Hollywood squeeze Amy Adams (don't tell mom), but "Magnificent Seven" was also pretty great, as was "Doctor Strange" and "Zootopia" and "Captain America Civil War".  Who knows how many Marvel movies will be around by the time you read this.

Your dad's mancrush, The Rock, also had a movie called "Central Intelligence" and became the Sexiest Man Alive, according to People Magazine.  I think I was a finalist, but they didn't call me like I thought they would.

For music... really, who knows. Seriously, kid, I stay stuck on 90s nostalgia.  There is a group called The Chainsmokers, but that name just weirds me out so I don't listen to them, really.

On TV, we started watching a few shows like "Designated Survivor" and "This Is Us" and "Westworld" but the gem of the year is called "Speechless".  Its a family with a handicapped, special needs son, its a comedy and its wonderful.  I'm sure we woke you up from laughing... sorry about that.

Speaking of sleeping... you finally got to your big boy bed!  It was fiasco getting the bed together with the mattress, but your mom and I can finally stretch out in our own bed -- especially since when you slept with us, you tended to toss your arms and legs all over the bed. And us.  You are still working on it though... you still wake up sometimes at 5a... or 630a... or 2a... you crawl out of bed in the dark, go around the rails on your bed, then run down the hall to our room.  Thankfully, you stopped turning the lights on, but still, you do scare Mom when you get right in her face.  I randomly wake up during the night and there you are, your knee in my back.  If I didn't love you so much, you'd sleep on the porch.

At the last minute, your mom managed to get you a
Jake & the Neverland Pirates costume. You might be
the cutest pirate ever.
I gotta tell ya, kid, you are leaping and bounding in the milestone department.  You probably didn't notice how dusty it was in the house on the day you finally called me "Daddy" and not "Gaga".  Well, truthfully, its a combo of "daddy" and "daggy" and "gaggy", but it's almost perfect.  And when you look at me and yell "DAGGGYY!!!", I can barley stand the love.  Heart explode and all that such stuff.

You know how to spell your name now, Campbell!  There you were, staring at a plaque that your Aunt Brynn & Uncle Tyler got you for Christmas, and you just started spelling...

"CEE!! AH!!! AHMM!  PEEE!! BEEE!!!! AH!!! EHH!! EHH!!"

...and it was incredible.  I thought your mom and I were going to literally scream with joy.  Your other big word is

"CAT"... "CEE!!  AHH!  TEEE!" and then you yell "CAT!".

And let me tell ya, you spell the heck out of those words all day long.  And we love it.  Heck, sometimes when we aren't even paying attention, you break out into the ABC song! (you do struggle from letters K through P, but you get a pass. For now.)

Some of your favorite toys so far this year were empty egg crates (you love opening and closing them)... your numerous iPhone and iPod products you have (thanks to our friends Rachel and Mark and Bill and others)... various musical toys you have had for years now... and of course, your spelling games on your iPad.

You finally learned the potty!  This past May was an insane weekend, but with your amazing Mom taking the lead, we were able to train you to actually pee in the potty (okay, we help you aim, but still)... and you definitely know how to sit on the seat and unload.  Man, can you drop in that bowl... whew.  I'm hoping when you read this, you'll have learned how to identify your need for the bathroom without just dropping trou in the living room and letting us lead you to the bathroom. One day you'll get it that you can go faster if you pull your pants down while at the toilet than doing it in another room and shuffling there.  Just sayin'. We'll get there.

There is a local place here called Let's Play -- I can only guess it'll be around when you are reading this, and I'm sure we'll go many more times. I bring that up because it was a thrill to watch you conquer your fears... you did the ropes course there all on your own.  I mean, its a small one, lots of pedestals and ropes and bridges and tunnels, with a big net under it, but it was amazing to watch you run up to the steps, climb up, climb down, up and down and back up, then go on the little platform, then back and over and over and over... and slowly start easing your way through the course.  And I watched you from a bench, I didn't help you do any of it.  You did it all on your own, kid, and it was incredible.  You did the same with the big bounce slide thing and the other bouncy inflatable thing... if only we could get you to conquer that fear of the vacuum or the shredder or the hair dryer when they are turned on.

Here is your mom and you at a Kulture City event
last spring. You are adorable. So is she. 
Campbell, your eye contact is great, and you look at people when you say some words. You know your colors, you know many of your letters, you can do many things on your own now and I know hearing you actually say sentences is not too far away.  Mitchell's Place, your school, is doing so much for you, and Ms Kia and Ms Alison love you so much and are doing wonderful things with you!  And Kulture City took us to the zoo for an event, and though you weren't keen on a giraffe licking your hand (who is?), I know you love the animals.

This is a total cliche, but I will say it... Campbell, you may have autism, but it does not have you.  I feel like you tell Autism to "Suck it" every day, in your own way.  We'll help you keep it up.

Campbell Isaiah, you are so, so loved by so many people. Your family, your friends, our friends, even people who haven't met you in person ask about you and follow along in your pictures online.

Finally, I wanted to mention this election year.  We had two candidates -- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- and Trump won.  This country is crazy right now, with all sides yelling at each other, people hating on each other because of gender or skin color or religion and all that.  I'm glad you don't understand any of this right now. Your world ends when we refuse to shuffle the cards for you (because we are trying to have dinner, so please just watch Elena of Avalor or PJ Masks til we are done... please?) and this is the only kind of oppression we hope you deal with for a long time.

Right now, you know nothing of color or religion or anything of the sort. All you see are people. All you see are hugs and smiles and maybe hands with phones in them that you can try to grab, but I want you to be this way for a long time. You are affectionate and love everyone right now. Even people who take your toys or snap at you... you forget the wrong nearly immediately.  You won't always be able to be this way... but stay this was as long as you can.

Keep loving people, Campbell.  Your mom and I want to do our best to make sure you are grounded in God's Truth and the love of Jesus, but more than anything, I want you to love God... and love other people.  And we can sort the rest out as we go.

I love you, son.

Daggy.

(last year's letter for Campbell's 4th birthday, with links to previous letters)  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

the last 18 years

perhaps its bad form to point out the flaws, but you lose the strengths of doing anything only sparingly, and writing is no different.  Grammatically incorrect and structurally derp, please forgive the way its presented and just take the message... 

Today is an important day in the life of one d$.  It was on this day in 1998 that I moved to Birmingham, Alabama.  I knew no one, I had no church, I didn't know my way around... but I chose B'Ham.

Why, you ask?  Well, my original intent was Mobile, a city that I still think is cool.  My other options were Atlanta and Nashville, because I'm more of a city guy... or was when I was 23 anyway.  But job offers had not come from Mobile, but I did get one job offer from Birmingham, at a little place called Designers International.

Now, if I could go back, there are a number of things I would tell 23 year old d$ to consider before shaking Rob Zuckert's hand and agreeing to work for this company.

First, what will I be doing?  The answer ended up being going door to door, store to store, parking lot to parking lot, selling knock off perfume out of a box.

Next, ask what my starting salary would be...  The perfume was $22 a bottle, so anything price I got beyond the $22 was mine to keep.  My first week in Birmingham, I made $7.  I wish I were kidding...

Finally, ask where the door was so I could leave... this was a disaster, but that's another post.

No, the main reason I moved to Birmingham was for a girl named Amy Wible, because I thought we'd go out.  When the girl you dig says "Move here and we can see each other!", you move.  Or I did.  As it turns out, we actually didn't see each other for another 2 years, but that is also another story.

But, this day in history... my friends Allysong, Shelby, Eddie, Troy Mac, Claire and a few others helped me load my stuff into my car and into another, and we drove to Birmingham together to unload it into my new, $435 per month loft at Carousel Apartments on Lorna Road.  My friends were so cool, in fact, that we drove back to Troy, loaded up the rest of it and came back... the guys spent the night with me, the girls with Allysong (who was from Alabaster, a Birmingham suburb), and early the next day, they drove back to Troy, Alabama.  Without me.  I was on my own.

My dream, besides working at Designer International, was to catch on a radio station and maybe be behind the mic... after all, I did it for 3 years in college, so this can't be hard, right?  Or maybe work at a TV station, first in production and then perhaps, who knows, in front of the camera?

It's been 18 years since my dreams of my two years in Birmingham would surely spill into a great job in Nashville, TN, or maybe over in Atlanta, maybe with Amy, maybe not. Or maybe I'd just move to New York City for a year or so... but first, let me spend two years here, get settled, pay off some debt and then pack up and move on.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 2016.

I met a guy named Michael and ended up moving to Pinebrook Apartments with he and Shawn and Big Tom Johnson.  Then we moved to Briarberry Circle and founded The Deuce.

I joined Valleydale Baptist Church, now known as Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), my first -- and only -- church membership. I'm still there, despite all the changes.

I met Stephanie Campbell in our college & career group at church, and thought she was the cutest thing ever.

I got a job as a temp at Parisian Corporate, which turned into a full time sales assistant job.

I worked at a radio station as a sales assistant, and realized I didn't want to do radio as a career.

I worked at the local NBC station, again as a sales assistant, and realized it was the worst job I'd ever had.

I worked at a movie theater and learned that many high school students are lazy. But many work hard.

I reconnected with Amy and realized she wasn't the one for me (and she knew I wasn't the one for her) 

I worked at Starbucks because I decided I would pay off my debts and save up for a ring because I really, really liked that cute girl named Stephanie Campbell.

I worked at The Disney Store and it confirmed my love of all things Disney. And I realized that yes, you can have a complete broken heart when the job ends.

I worked at Starbucks again and realized, maybe years too late, it wasn't my life's goal.

I worked at Alabama Power, to help clear my head of Starbucks.

And then I became a full time travel planner.

I've been a ticket tearer, a perfume pimper, a make-salespeople-look-good'er, a barista, a shift supervisor, an assistant manager, a manager, a barista, a shift supervisor, an assistant manager, a shift supervisor, a Cast Member, an engineering contractor (!) and finally, a travel planner.
'
I helped start a podcast with some of my best friends, my Deucemates... I've been close to my Sunday Scho... er, Life Connec... uh, Life Gro... that group on Sunday mornings for over 10 years now... I've reconnected with my BFF Best Mate Wookiee after a few years apart... I've reconnected with my worst first date ever, Ginny Kochan... I've become friends with reality stars like Brooke from The Bachelor, now on NBC, and been put into the Million Dollar Hold by WWE Hall of Famer Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase... I joined the cult of Jon Acuff, and three years later, I can say names like "Clay Shaver" and "Rick TOOOOLIE" and "Debra Henessy" and "Liz Clark" as some of my favorite people on the planet, people that help push me to what I'm doing now...

In 18 years, I've written 1000+ blog posts... traveled the East Coast... watched 1000s of movies... read 100s of books... been to Disney World countless times, and even did the "four parks in one day" thing twice (while doing the water parks too, for a 6 parks in one day trip) and accomplished 50 attractions in 24 hours...

In 18 years, I got married to the cutest thing ever, The Lovely Steph Leann... we had Campbell Isaiah, who is the most amazing kid I know...  lost both of the people who raised me, but gained a mom who'd let me go 36 years ago... we paid off debt, we bought a house, we bought a brand new car...

And if I had moved to Mobile... I would have never had The Deuce... I would have never found Valleydale, and thusly never met The Lovely Steph Leann... I might've never met Clay Shaver or Liz Clark... Wookiee may have never come to see me in Mobile, so we would have been another case of "best buds in college, but lost touch over the years"... my life would be different.

Maybe worse, maybe just a lateral move in quality (I mean, who's to say that I wouldn't be talking about my life in Mobile, wondering what life would have been like had I moved to Birmingham instead?) but...

but... I like it like this.  For what was supposed to be a two year stop in Birmingham before moving to bigger and better... I somehow found my bigger and better right here.

Two years becomes 18, and 18 will likely become 25 and beyond.

Here's to the next 18.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

in the early hours of fathers day

"...it's late at night and neither one of us are sleeping..." - "Just Take My Heart" by Mr. Big, 1991

Happy Father's Day and look, I still have a blog.

Ironic enough that I just spent the first hour or so of this, my 5th Father's Day (It's the 6th, if you count the pregnancy, which The Lovely Steph Leann does not, but I still want to give credence), getting my crying kid to go back to sleep.

The Lovely Steph Leann left earlier today to head to Salt Lake City for a Young Living convention, not to return until after next weekend... so that's a whole lot of Campbell & Daddy time between now and then.  (if you are one of those snakes who like to rob people when they think the home will be empty, just know I work from home, so joke's on you, loser).

Aunt Becky is scheduled to come into town for half of the week, but with her age and lack of mobility, that's really just an extra eye on the little guy while I get shower at a decent hour.  Hashtag unnecessary rhymes.

The afternoon has been fine... Campbell & I both had lunch, and while he played, I watched a movie ("The Death of Superman Lives", an excellent documentary on the ill fated attempt at a Superman revival in 1999 starring Nicholas Cage.  Yes, that Nic Cage).  In the early afternoon, he and I visited Let's Play, a local indoor play area, and then ran some errands to Wal-Mart and dinner.  He was pretty beat, which was according to plan, but I made him hold out until after I finished the documentary I was watching in the evening (Part 4 of the also excellent ESPN 30 for 30 film "OJ: Made in America"), and by 8ish, he was dead to the world.

For those of you who are reading this and are unfamiliar with my 4 year old, he's on the spectrum.  Most of his 4 years have been spent being rocked to sleep, so I thought I'd turn on some super daddy skillz tonight and after his bath, after putting on his pajamas, instead of rocking him, I just laid down with him in the bed.  It took him a little while to sleep, but sleep finally came... out like a little light.

I came downstairs, then knocked out the final part, Part 5, of the OJ doc, then cleaned up the kitchen a little bit... the usual, with dishes, getting food ready for tomorrow, dishes, spraying and wiping down counters and of course, dishes. All of this while starting on the final 8 hours of the 21 hour audiobook "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows" (it's a race to the finish now, as I've gone through the other 6 books in the last few months, and their length is really slowing my pace to finish 43 books this year... it's mid-June and Deathly Hallows is only Book 16! Where was I?  Oh yes...)

The kitchen cleaned, I sat down in front of the laptop to open it for the very first time today and was just making a slight change on a Disney trip for a family (if you didn't know about Campbell, you probably didn't know I plan Disney trips for a living. #ShamelessPlug), and was listening intently as Harry was questioning Mr. Ollivander, the wandmaker, about the Elder Wand when... I heard crying.

I paused the iPod, left the laptop and everything on and ran upstairs.  There was Campbell, sitting up in bed, in pitch dark... the diffuser I had going earlier had gone out, so I fumbled for the small bathroom light to turn on.  I flipped the switch, and he just looked up at me with a pitiful look... sniffling, he reached out to me.

I got on the bed with him, stroked his hair, laid next to him and let him cry for a minute. What about, I have no idea.  See, Campbell can't tell us these things yet. He has no way of vocalizing if things hurt, if he's scared, if he doesn't feel good... all we can do is just comfort and make guesses.

I asked if he had to "go potty", and his body language said that while that wasn't making him cry, he could probably go about now.  We went to the bathroom, he went, and we came back to the bed.  I re-set the diffuser so it's light could replace the bathroom light, and could also fill the air with some oil that may help him if he was congested.  Then I lay back beside him.

And he cried and cried.  No tears, so I suppose it could be night terrors, or it could be hurting somewhere... or he could just decide that it was time to cry, right now.  I lay there with him as he cried and sometime screamed in my ear. I had some patience, but regrettably, it was wearing a little thin -- The Lovely Steph Leann is always so much better at this than I am. And she's gone.  I never resent her trips unless this happens, then I wish she'd never leave.

When I've rocked Campbell to sleep before, I usually will pray out loud for him.  I  pray for his health, I pray that he will find Christ in His timing, I pray for his development and I always pray that Campbell will begin talking -- not just the words that he can say here and there, or repeat back when we ask him to say something, but to actually communication.

This time, however, my prayers were a little more forceful. I challenged God. I asked God "Why won't you help him?  I'm not asking you to make him a typical child, or to suddenly increase his development, but You know You could snap your fingers and make him talk. You know You could blink Your eyes and he'd be asleep, without any pain he might feel right now.

God, I have a kid who can't even tell me and his mom that he loves us. I can't play LEGOs with him, I can't enjoy milk and Oreos with him, I can't take him to see Finding Dory, when I'm at Let's Play, I have to watch him even closer than most parents watch their kids because he doesn't understand whats appropriate around other kids... why won't You help him?  Why do You refuse to?!"

It's questions I think I've struggled with subconsciously for a while.  Just... why.  Keep the autism, that's fine, that's who he is and who God made him to be.  But just fix that part.  That talking part. Please.

It was at this moment I noticed Campbell was quiet. He had nestled into my left arm, which was holding him, with his head on my shoulder.  Even in the dim light, I could see Campbell's eyes open. Big, wonderment-filled eyes.  They looked around before finally looking straight into mine.  Campbell and I laid there, eyes locked for probably no more than 30 seconds, but it was enough.

And in those eyes, God spoke to me.

He said, "d$... your question to me is 'Why won't I help him?', but what you are really asking is... 'Why won't I help YOU?' He knows nothing of LEGOs and Oreos and movie theaters. These are all things YOU wish to experience with him, for him.  These are not bad things... in fact, they are wonderful things. But these are not things for the two of you to experience.  You will have your own experiences that other fathers and their children will know nothing about. Because this is the plan I have for him. And for you."

As I finished this blog post, I ran back up to take this pic... and he was in
the exact same spot that I left him. Cute little guy, ain't he.
And it made sense. It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but it did make sense.  And yes, selfishly, I want those things. But I learned many years ago -- though I still struggle with it constantly -- to not mourn what I'll be missing with Campbell, but to celebrate what I'll be getting, what me and The Lovely Steph Leann will have in our son.

Well... I'd love to tell you that Campbell went right on to sleep... but he didn't.  He rolled over, cried some more, jerked his whole body so that he essentially butt-punched me in the stomach, accidentally (I think) smacked me in the face, and cried a little more.  But finally... finally, he closed his eyes for the final time tonight (I hope) and was gone.

Which allowed me to come down here and shut everything down... allowed me to jot down my thoughts here before I did.  I've this is my 4th re-read of the Harry Potter series, so I know that Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook are about to take on Gringotts (#NerdAlert) so no need to continue that tonight.

Happy Father's Day to you fathers out there. Take a bow.  And to those who are mourning the loss of their own father, I grieve with you, as the man who raised me passed 16 years ago.  And to those fathers who have lost loved ones, I nod to you as well.

Dads... remember... this day is about you. But it's always about them.  And always will be.

(ps... because it's now 207a, my usual terrible lyrical style was made even more terrible, so please excuse the bad grammar, misspelled words and lack of proper punctuation)

Friday, March 18, 2016

american idol's last hurrah

I'm not sure that anyone but myself, The Lovely Steph Leann and our friend Cindy Jo is actually watching American Idol this season.  Heck, I stopped doing Idol blogs years ago, even before the dumpster fire that was the Mariah Carey/Nicki Minaj season...

SIDEBAR -- I'm proud to say I've been alive for the entire five or six years that Nicki Minaj has even been a thing, and I'm proud to say I haven't heard more than five seconds of any Minaj song.  I know she has one called "Starship" or "Spaceship" or something, but I only know it because the title appears on my screen on SiriusXM, but I'm quick to turn it.  To be fair, she does add a little flair to the Jessie J/Ariana Grande song "Bang Bang" which I want to publicly denounce, but deep down in the iPod of my heart, it sits next to "Party in the USA" as "My Jams" 

OTHER SIDEBAR -- I don't know a lot about Jessie J, other than she sorta looks like a poor man's Idina Menzel.  And honestly, I'm trying not to like Ariana Grande because she's really flaky, but darn it if I actually kinda like her.  Let's move on.

Where was I?  Oh yeah...

Anyway, we are rocketing towards the finale like a Meat Loaf album title (wait for it) and most unexpectedly.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I have had more than one conversation about how Idol has been a mainstay for Fox for a decade and a half, making it a bajillionty dollars, and yet, it's as if the execs at Fox said "Get it done and over as quick as possible."

So much so that we are chunking two at a time in the past few weeks, not even a separate results show, and seriously, I freakin' miss the Silver Stools of Doom that the Bottom Three had to sit on to await their fate!

I figured they would have at least a full Top Ten, even after that quick slashing of the Top 24... but nope. Knocking two out, then two more, then another, all under the guise of "Judge's Save", giving the power to Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez & keith urban to pick the best of the Bottom 3 to remain.

Anyway, tonight's show was the Final Six, soon to be a Final Five, as the judges use the "last Judge Save".  I didn't even know we were calling it that.

Who do we have?  Sonika Vaid, with her old school Demi Lovato teeth gap... Tristan McIntosh who, for the life of both myself and The Lovely Steph Leann, we cannot figure out how she made it this far... Mackenzie Bourg, who strikes me as very toothy... Dalton Rapattoni, the token eyeliner-wearing guy on the show... Trent Harmon, who is The Lovely Steph's Leann's favorite and seemingly a pretty cool guy... and La'Porsha, the big haired prohibitive favorite who can not just sing, but SAANG.

Here are my thoughts on tonight's episode...

First... Harry made some comment about how this is the final night to use the save, and said something about how everyone is bringing it tonight because they haven't used it yet... but actually, when he said it, the Judge's Save had been used about 10 minutes prior to save Sonika.  This show IS live, right?  Are they pulling a Seacrusty Fakery on us?

Second... Olivia Rox should still be here.  Avalon shouldn't have lasted this long, just like Tristan.

Third... If Idol were to continue, La'Porsha's version of Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama" would go down in A.I. folklore as one of those seminal moments on the show, a la "Summertime" by Fantasia or David Cook's version of "Hello" or Carrie Underwood's "Alone"... something you remember for years to come.

Fourth... While it's never a wrong time to have the performance of your season, like MacKenzie did tonight, it's not quite as magical when you blow everyone away with a tender version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" only to have everyone be blowered awayer more when La'Porsha comes up.

Fifth... This is perhaps the first season that I could see anyone in the Top Four actually winning and being successful (which is a relative term for Idol, because though we have Kelly, Carrie, Daughtry and a few others, we also have DeWyze and Bowersox and many more forgotten names).  I say four because Sonika will likely be dropped next week.  It's time.

Sixth... Do you mean to tell me that Idol listened to the fans and American actually chose "Wild World" by Cat Stevens?  I'd almost guarantee that 88.4% of the Idol audience had no idea who sang "Wild World", and probably 67.9% of that group may not even know who Cat Stevens is.  I smell shenanigans.

Seventh... Its a joy to watch J-Lo, Harry and keith do their thing, because you can tell they truly are having a great time.  People complain that since Simon left, it's gone downhill, but I am one of those people who didn't watch for the disasters, I watched for the talents.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed William Hung and "Pants on the Ground" like anyone else, but I have really reveled in watching the real artists emerge (long live Julia DeMato!), and our three judges feel the same.

Eighth... While not in this episode, go out and find Kelly Clarkson's version of "Piece by Piece" from a few weeks ago, her new song.  Holy crap.  It might be the best performance Kelly has ever pulled off.



Ninth... Speaking of returning Idols, what is Adam Lambert doing that he can't take 2 hours and sit at the table and judge?  Or work with the Idols a little?  Seriously... Kelly Clarkson is like forever pregnant, but sat right down and did a great job helping the Idols, and THEN performed.  I give a pass to Carrie Underwood but Adam Lambert?  Sit yo' butt down and talk to these kids.

Tenth... I'll admit, I like Tristan, but I agree with Harry when he says that she's uber talented, but just not ready for this.  Which is annoying, because he was one of the three people that put her into this Top Ten limelight, but there it is.  She sang a Martina McBride song for the 2nd week in a row, and while last week's "Broken Wing" saved her bacon (she did it justice), this week she did a piano ballady version of "Independence Day".  That's not a song you can make into a ballad, or at least not easily.  And while she sang okay, the song lost its umph with her version.

Last point... Tristan and Sonika were in the Bottom Two, and had to sing to try and earn the Judge's Save.  While Tristan did the aforementioned "Independence Day", Sonika chose to sing, "Demi Lovato's 'Let It Go'"

This led to a deep chat between myself and The Lovely Steph  Leann, because I was somewhat bugged by the fact that it was "Demi's 'Let It Go'"  I immediately piped up with "That's Idina, not Demi.  What the heck?"

The Lovely Steph Leann:  Yeah, but Demi did it
Me: No, Demi did a version of it.  That's Idina Menzel's song.
The Lovely Steph Leann:  Yeah, but Sonika is doing Demi's version of the song
Me: Then Seacrest should say that she's doing Demi's version of an Idina song.
The Lovely Steph  Leann: It's just like when the Carpenter's did "Ticket to Ride".  You don't say they did the Beatles "Ticket to Ride", they did their own version of it.
Me: (Pause): Yeah, but still.

And as usual, she's right.  Still Idina's song.




Sunday, January 31, 2016

Favorite Ten Books of 2015

Well, hi.

I won't blither on about not writing or blogging or how I miss it and so on and so on... done that already.  You can even read about that here.

The important thing is, here I am!

So, now that the first month of the year is over, I thought before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin... or at least, pumpkiner... I thought it best to get something in.  See that link filled side bar over there ----- >  ?  Well, if you miss a month, then a month doesn't show up because there's nothing there... and I really don't want to not have January 2016 there.

To my point... people who know me know I'm an Audible.com junkie.  I'm so super busy right now the only way I can possibly "read" is by listening to audiobooks... I can listen while I drive, while I work around the house and sometimes as I sit and work on Magic on a Dollar fun Disney travel stuff...

You should read this book.  Okay, I should read this book, and I will
when I can. Its not on audio, so it will take some time.
My goal in 2013 was 25 books, and I did 27.  In 2014, I went up to 35, and knocked out 37.  And last year, I had a goal of 40, and got right to 40... I would have gotten a few more, but I waited the last two weeks of the year to sit down with my dear friend Kinda Wilson's new book "The Echo Factor", but was unable to find the time.  So sitting at 39 books, I panicked and sorta did a cheap move by going through a 90 minute book (I have done podcast episodes longer than that...) called "20,000 Days" by Robert Smith.  It was all about how we need to make the most of every day... and it was okay.  If you really want a book covering that topic, read my favorite book of 2014, "Moment Maker" by Carlos Whittaker.  That will change your life.

Back to the topic at hand.  This year, my goal is 43 books.  I felt 45 was just a little too much, and since I upped my previous goal by 3, I did the same for 2016.  At this writing, I just finished my 5th book of the year.

And don't even ask me about my movie goal... you will literally think I do nothing but listen to audiobooks and watch movies.  Okay, you asked, my goal is 150 new-to-me movies, and I'm currently at 20.  On pace for 240 films.  No way I make that, I promise you, but still.

SIDEBAR shout out to my friends Jessica Jobes and Writer Chris Holmes, who I have found myself with as "BookTriplets"... and shout out to Rick Theule and Megan Hall, also avid readers who's suggestions I take seriously. 

So without further meandering nonsensically, here are my favorite 10 books of 2015:

10) Outliers - Malcom Gladwell... My friend May Bohon recommended this, and its all about how success can be mostly attributed not to personal ambition but to our surroundings and environment.  This might also be the book that coined the idea that to be an expert in something, it takes 10,000 hours of doing it. I did like his theories, but I did feel like he put only a slight emphasis on hard work and ambition. Still, very well written.

9) Go Solo - Kelsey Humphreys... If you are going on a solo venture business wise, you need to read this book.  Lots of practical advice, lots of things to consider and think through.  I met Kelsey at a conference last summer (I actually took the stage to speak after she did!) and really liked what she's doing here.

8) Troublemaker - Leah Remini... That's right, Stacy Karosi from Saved by the Bell wrote a book and its all about her life in the scam known as Scientology.  And how she got out of it, and the aftermath since. It doesn't pull any punches, and really gets juicy when discussing her disdain for Tom Cruise... and her disdain is utter and clear.  She shares various stories of the ridiculous life she led and eventually left, and with her narrating the audiobook, its filled with great sarcasm and snark.

7) Gray Mountain - John Grisham... Breaking the mold of focusing on a single case, this story actually follows a young lawyer and her internship in a small Virginia coal mining town. In his writing, its evident that Grisham doesn't like the coal industry, but he does keep that to a minimum here with a few twists and turns, and this book has something that many of his books do not -- a satisfying ending.

NOTE:  I interchanged the next five books about four times.  What was #2 was #6 and #4 at one time, I swapped #5 and #6 about three times and the only thing that stayed the same was my favorite book of 2015.  So know that I love all of the following books nearly equally and only ranked them because I sorta had to.  

6) Finders Keepers - Stephen King... The second in what will be a trilogy (Mr. Mercedes was first, and End of Watch is coming in June to finish it), about Detective Bill Hodges.  Nothing supernatural, just a great suspense story of a boy who finds a big reward and then suffers its consequences. It's thrilling, edge of your seat tense and it has a fantastic finish.  Excited about the last one in June!

What makes this audiobook so good is that Al
does his own narration -- its like a trusted,
loved old uncle telling stories.
5) You Can't Make This Up - Al Michaels & L. Jon Werthem... My favorite memoir of the year, and its even better because Al narrates it himself.  Starting at the beginning of his career, he tells story after story of the small moments and the big ones too -- covering the 1989 San Fran earthquake and responding to 9/11 -- and he doesn't mind giving you a little guff for those he doesn't care for.  Like Howard Cosell.  Al don't like him no Cosell, trust me on this.  So much fun.

4) Dark Places - Gillian Flynn... The more I read this book, the more it stuck with me. It's the story of Libby Day, a child survivor of a family massacre that her brother is currently serving a life sentence for committing... but a few circumstances and chapters later, that is all drawn into question. Libby's unlikability is buoyed by a likable sidekick and all culminates in a heckuva ending. I enjoyed Gone Girl, but liked this one even more. (I had high hopes for the movie, and it was a letdown all the way around...)

3) Do Over - Jon Acuff... My favorite non-fiction book of the year, and the only book that I've ever (this year or other) re-started as soon as it was finished.  Read it twice in four days.  Jon Acuff writes what he knows, and what he knows is helping other people find who they are supposed to be.  I have had two Do Overs in three years... one in 2013, and one last August, and so this (along with "Go Solo" by Kelsey Humphrey) made for a great help in getting me started on my #LEAP of working from home.  Even if you are a little dissatisfied with your career or where you are in your life, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Tons of encouragement, instructions, guidance, life lessons and plenty of queso jokes.

Lots of language, but lots of fun
2) Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins... When Rachel takes the train, she makes up stories for the people she sees along the journey to work, stories that are better than her own sad, pathetic life.  But one day she sees something wrong, something suspicious, something that doesn't make sense... and this sends her into a spiral and sends this story into a slow burn thrill ride.  I guessed the ending a few chapters before it was over, but that didn't stop me from loving it just as much.  Can't wait for the movie, because I am excited to see what they do with it, and also because I love me some Emily Blunt.

1) The Martian - Andy Weir... Holy stinkin' crap this book was stellar and amazing.  Either you've seen the movie or you've heard of it, but it not, the story is that Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars after a Mars landing trip has an accident. The story follows not only Mark in a first person narrative, but those in his ship and those back on Earth as they try to save him. It's tense, funny, and though you'd think it would be technical, it is actually explained through jokes and in simple terms for us, the silly reader, to get.  This will be a re-read in a few years.

Other books I really enjoyed this year:
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton... The movie followed the book fairly well, but the book has more death and a main character who lives in the movie has their fate left unknown in the book.

Bossypants by Tina Fey... I love Tina Fey.

The Missing Ring by Keith Dunnavant... The story of how the Alabama Crimson Tide was essentially robbed of the national title in 1966 (and this was a legit claim for once).

Deliver us by Kathryn Casey... My favorite true crime writer tells tales and shares stories of the infamous murders and disappearances along The Killing Fields, the stretch along I-45 on the eastern border of Texas.

You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News by the Editors of Cracked.com... One of my favorite humor sites culls together some of their funniest (true) articles, with titles like "Five Fight Moves that Only Work In Movies" and "Four Greatest Things Ever Accomplished While High" and my favorite, one that describes dolphins as "sex crazed thrill killers", the chapter called "The Six Cutest Animals That Can Kill You".

And books I re-read this year (that didn't qualify for the Top Ten of 2015, but were obviously great because I took time to re-read them):

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin... Loved it as a kid, and I actually didn't remember a single thing about it.  It was like reading a new book.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King... My favorite King book, and I go through it every few Octobers.

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans... I love reading this around Christmas time.

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling... Re-read the entire series every few years.  Usually I go straight through, but in 2016, I may sprinkle them in all year.

And finally... books on tap this year... the aforementioned Kinda Wilson's "The Echo Factor"... Corie Clark's "The Simplicity Project"... Drew Barrymore's "Wildflower"... Amy Poehler's "Yes Please"... Jen Kirkman's "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself"... Ethan Bryan's "Catch & Release"... Justin Fisher's "Conehatta, Cerebral Palsy & the Cross "... a reread of James Stewart's "Disney War"... and more Harry Potter. Oh, and my buddy Clay Shaver has one coming out too...

That's obviously an incomplete list.  With the five I've read, plus those right there, that still puts me 29 short.